U.S.-Iraq Deal on Contractor Immunity Goes Fourth

On Tuesday, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari announced that the U.S. has agreed to lift immunity for private security contractors working in Iraq as part of U.S.-Iraq security pact negotiations. This concession is expected to bring the two countries closer to signing a long-term security pact to keep U.S. troops in Iraq after the U.N. mandate for foreign forces stationed there expires in December.

Of course, any story reporting this bit of news must name-check Blackwater, one of the biggest private security contractors in Iraq. American authorities conferred immunity on U.S. contractors in Iraq back in 2004, and it has been a highly contentious issue between the two countries ever since. Things really got ugly last September when Blackwater security guards were involved in a firefight in Baghdad that left 17 dead and dozens injured. The matter is still under investigation; Blackwater claims its guards were acting in self-defense.

POGO supports anything that will impose greater accountability on contractors and hopes this immunity agreement will further that end. From now on, private contractors who commit crimes will be subject to prosecution under Iraqi law. In theory, this is what should happen; however, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) and legal scholars are somewhat skeptical. Rep. Schakowsky called on President Bush to clarify which U.S. laws apply to private security contractors so that they may also be prosecuted under U.S. law. A law professor quoted in this Virginian-Pilot article says that that even if the U.S. agrees to lift immunity for contractors in Iraq, the State Department could still protect them under existing international law.

At any rate, Blackwater should welcome this development, being such a strong supporter of the local laws of the foreign countries in which they operate. After all, this is a company that recently insisted a Florida federal court hearing a lawsuit blaming the company for a plane crash in Afghanistan should apply the laws of Afghanistan, not the U.S.